Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

4 Conclusions and Other Considerations

A MYTHIC COMBAT IN ANCIENT ISRAEL

Throughout the ancient Near East there were two particularly dominant structures of divine power and creativity: the one was a theology of the effective word, which we have called the logos model; 1 the other was a theology of combat against the forces of chaos or disorder, which we have called the agon model. The logos model was presumably derived, in part, from the precedent of royal edicts or the evocative word of magicians and oracles; whereas the agon model seems to have been inspired by meteorological phenomena, and especially by the seasonal clash between the heavenly powers in the thunderstorm and the divine powers in the earthly waters. The containment and domestication of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers certainly made an impression on the composers of Enuma elish, 2 even as the gathering of the lower waters in oceans and rivers impressed the authors of Psalms 74 and 104, and appeared to them as the result of the defeat or subjugation of the primeval waters by the high creator god.

Our analysis of biblical myth and mythmaking has focused on this agon model, because it allows us to see how the common ancient Near Eastern topos of divine combat with the sea was realized in Israelite sources. Careful analysis shows that, at the level of imagery and terminology, there is no disjunction between the pagan and monotheistic texts, and in fact many of the nominalizations of the sea (Yam, Leviathan, Naḥash) and its attributes (bariaḥ and ͑aqalaṭon) comport with common Canaanite prototypes. At the same time, there is no indication in the biblical materials that the sea is a fully distinct divine personality with its own biography, as we can know it from Canaanite texts, or that the theomachy is a recurrent seasonal phenomenon. Rather, in a distinctive manner, the biblical versions link the prototypical conflict at the beginning of the world order (Urzeit) with its recurrence within the sacred history of Israel during the exodus from Egypt, and its anticipated recurrence in new forms thereafter, up to and including the final defeat of the sea in the future (Endzeit).

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